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‘Press Publish’: Interview with Ben Witherington III on Academic Blogging

‘Press Publish’: Interview with Ben Witherington III on Academic Blogging

As part of the “Press Publish” series on academic blogging, I am conducting short interviews with prominent academic bloggers from around the world. (The ‘hub’ for the discussion is the initial post on Starting an Academic Blog where the discussion and links to interviews are kept up-to-date).

I am delighted to begin with Dr. Ben Witherington III, Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Kentucky, USA)  and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is a graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, receiving the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham. Dr. Witherington is a prolific writer, writing not only for fellow scholars, but students and interested lay-persons alike. He has a professional website and maintains a very popular blog, Bible and Culture, now hosted at patheos.com. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Witherington for the first time after a lecture he recently gave on the significance of ancient rhetoric for understand the New Testament texts at the University of Edinburgh.

What follows are Dr. Witherington’s answers to four questions I asked him about academic blogging:

1. When and why did you start blogging?      

About a decade ago I was approached by Beliefnet to do a blog on the Bible and Culture. At the same time they asked me to be the person to answer queries about the Bible. So for many years I worked with them. Then I was approached by Patheos to do the same thing. They had a better platform and better traffic, and so I switched and have stayed there.

2. What are a few of the benefits you see in blogging?  

I see blogging as a means to expose to a wider audience the issues that arise in studying the Bible. I have about 35,000 or so hits per month to my blog, and it is geared not just to academics but also to pastors and lay people. The academics, not surprisingly, tend to focus more specifically on the academic posts, which come about once or twice a week. I do blog posts for every day of the year.  

3. Should more academics be blogging?  

I think academics in my field have an obligation to blog and make their work more widely known and readily available to those interested in the Bible. My own experience has been that this doesn’t hinder proper publication of scholarly works, it in fact provides a wider audience for those very works.

4. What advice would you give an academic who is thinking about starting?

The real question an academic needs to ask himself or herself is whether they are able to distill their information to any level of discourse, or are they only really able to converse and discourse mainly with other academics. A blog is a public thing, unless it requires a subscription and payment. That being the case, an academic needs to decide if he is well suited to the task of blogging, and this requires the ability to write in a style readily accessible to an audience broader than just academics.

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9 Responses to ‘Press Publish’: Interview with Ben Witherington III on Academic Blogging

  1. Totally agree with Dr. Witherington, I’ve been blogging for some years.

    To quote him: “The real question an academic needs to ask himself or herself is whether they are able to distill their information to any level of discourse, or are they only really able to converse and discourse mainly with other academics.”

    True, and if such academics find that cannot express themselves in a popular-level blog (or in a sermon, or with children), then perhaps they should ask themselves how deeply they really understand their topic.

    May I add that blogging is excellent for the blogger. My writing style has improved significantly since I began.

    I can also pick and choose themes which interest me or concerning which I have an opinion – this makes it fun.

    Another, darker, point: in one of my blogs, I regularly receive comments that are filled with invective, accusations of apostasy, of sin, of who knows what. Write a blog on why tithing is not for today, or why the Textus Receptus is not better than Nestle-Aland, and you’ll see. Blogging has helped me grow, I hope, in love and tolerance.

    • Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Gary. And on the “darker” point you raise: Unfortunately the global access that most blogs offer can be taken advantage of by such folks as you describe. It sounds like we agree, though, that the rewards outweigh the costs.

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